Last week, the Libyan legislature formally requested Egypt’s military intervention in its civil war—a request its Egyptian counterpart assented to yesterday. Cairo has for some time supported the Libyan legislature, and the warlord Khalifa Haftar, in their ongoing conflict with the country’s president and his Government of National Accord (GNA). Simultaneously, Turkey has been increasing its support for the GNA. Jonathan Spyer describes this explosive situation:
A cluster of additional international players are gathered around the two warring sides. The GNA has the additional support of Qatar and Italy. Haftar, meanwhile, enjoys the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.
The events in Libya reflect the depth and intensity of one of the key strategic rivalries in the Middle East. This is the contest between the camp consisting of Turkey, Qatar, and a variety of Muslim Brotherhood-associated forces in the region, including Hamas’s Gaza fiefdom, and the rival [entente] of Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. There are, of course, other elements engaged in the complex Libyan strategic space. But these two camps are the central players. [The] GNA in Tripoli and Haftar and his allies in the eastern part of the country are their respective proxies.
This rivalry is not solely geostrategic. It relates also to modes of governance. Turkey had hoped to emerge at the head of a bloc of democratically elected Islamist governments in the region, following the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2010. For a while, things seemed to be going well. The election of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt in 2011 was the high point. Turkey strongly backed the government of Mohamed Morsi. It similarly threw its weight behind the Sunni Islamist insurgents in Syria. For a moment, the prospect of a bloc of Sunni Islamist governance stretching from Ankara to Cairo (and incidentally, threatening Israel from north and south) looked like a real possibility.